Interview with guitarist Jari Laine
Interview conducted by Luxi Lahtinen
Date online: April 20, 2013
Torture Killer, a 5-piece grooving and heavy Death Metal act from Finland, the land of sauna, high suicide rates and drunken dorks, gained notoriety with their second studio album, Swarm! That album featured no less than Chris Barnes (ex-Cannibal Corpse, Six Feet Under) who provided vocals for the whole album. Swarm! was the album that put Torture Killer on the Death metal map for good.
Ever since, Torture Killer have been building their reputation as a hard working band by gigging around Europe and steadily putting out new material (the band's third full-length studio album, Sewers, was released in 2009 and the I Chose Death EP in 2012).
Over the past few months, Torture Killer has been preparing songs for their fourth album, Phobia, which is out now. The main force behind Torture Killer, guitarist Jari Laine took some time to tell The Metal Crypt more about that album, how Chris Barnes got involved in Phobia, touring plans and so on. Read on...
Luxi: First off, congratulations on Torture Killer's fourth album, Phobia. I have listened to it 3-4 times in a row and it sounds terrific. It reminds me of old Torture Killer but also has something new to it. When you started working on the songs for Phobia, what was your approach toward how you wanted it to sound? Did you just attempt to write an album that sounded good to your ears at that time, without focusing on anything what you had done before?
Jari: Usually I don't think about writing too much in the beginning, so the style comes out naturally most of the time. I did feel that we needed to "air" the sound in some way. Sewers was pretty nonstop, vocal lines had a big role and on almost every riff there was something going on vocally. This time I wanted to hear more riffs and let the music itself create the mood which is hard because you want the riffs to be good, and not just there for the sake of it. It's usually more towards the end when I start to get a picture of what kind of songs we have and if I need to go searching for something in specific. Maybe we need a faster one or a slower one, but even then I don't push it too hard because that doesn't work for me. It needs to come out naturally, or it won't be good. It can be okay, but not good. If it doesn't feel good at some level when you first write it, it never will. I feel I've written what I can in some areas, and therefore there might be a slight change in the style in the air but nothing dramatic, it'll still be in the realms of what we do, but when you no longer feel excited about something you need to try new ideas.
Luxi: Phobia is Torture Killer's fourth album in 10 years. To start off this interview with a very cliché question, would you say Phobia is the record you feel the most satisfied with, as far as both the music and lyrics are concerned?
Jari: I am pleased with it and I think it has really good moments. Personally, I would have continued with EP's. I Chose Death was perfect to me on every level; the songs, the production, everything. The sessions were the easiest we ever had and EPs allow you to give every detail the attention it needs. However, we still owed one album to Dynamic Arts Records, so here it is. I put a lot of time into it, and I think every song has its attraction. After a million listens, all the writing, recording and mixing, it still sounds ok to me, so I am happy with it. I think there are really good songs and lyrics on it. But we've had good moments on every album we've done, so it's hard to compare your own work. I'd like to believe I'm the hardest critic of our music AND I compare it to only the best of the genre, so you can probably understand that I can never be "totally blown away".
Luxi: Where does all the catchy grooviness come from in your songs? It surely is one of the trademarks of Torture Killer's sound...
Jari: I'm not a very talented or technical player as you might've guessed, so my approach is to write songs that FEEL good. The swing and the groove is what I love about my favorite bands, so its natural that's what I want to do with my band. It comes out naturally, and with Phobia and I Chose Death we finally managed to get that on tape in a way that we feel good about. I never thought the most technical players were my thing. I appreciate the talent, but the ones that were heroes to me were the guys who could write the catchiest riffs. There are a few lead players that can write captivating leads like Jason Morgan, Tony Norman, James Murphy, Trey Azagthoth, and Boudewijn Bonebakker, but I never had the skill or the patience to actually learn that kind of technique. But it's definitely not just the riffs and guitars, drummers play a huge role in those bands. You need to have that groove, not just play a beat mechanically. Donald Tardy, Alex Marquez, Ed Wardby, Charlie Benante; we need guys like that. The prototype modern day extreme Metal drummer is one that can play all this crazy, pointless shit, spend hours on end to perfect a blast beat with a right technique, but can't make a basic drum beat groove if their life depended on it. I'm sure all the knowledge and the effort they put into the right techniques has its advantages, but it makes the drumming too academic. It eats away the "beast" factor and in Metal you need to have that.
Luxi: When I was listening to your latest album I couldn't avoid SFU and Obituary coming to mind due to the similar grooving and raw heaviness. D you see those acts as influences for Torture Killer?
Jari: I guess SFU comes up because of the name and history, and I still think the first three albums they did are masterpieces; right up there with the best. But, in fact, Obituary is my favorite band of all time, the only band whose special editions and rare releases I try to get. Allen West had the deadliest grooves back in the day and they are, without a doubt, my main influence. I've listened to the first five albums a zillion times and I never get tired of 'em. A perfect example of when five guys become their own entity; take one out and it will not work. There's just something magical that happens when certain people are in the same room...
Luxi: One of the most unusual and even experimental songs that Torture Killer has ever written can also be found on your new album, Phobia. The song is called "Written in Blood", and Chris Barnes does the vocals. Clint Eastwood goes Death Metal, eh?
Jari: Not sure what that means but ok. I had some riffs ready at the time we did Sewers, and we even tried to record a version of it as an intro but it just didn't work. It had a special feel to it but it just wasn't ready. Over the years I kept coming back to it. It was a bitch to write and finally, just weeks before we started recording, I had a version that felt best and frankly, I was getting tired of working on it. It had a very unusual structure, but I didn't let that bother me. It had a mood, but I didn't have any idea what the song should be called. It was meant to be an instrumental, but it needed a name, so I sent it over to Barnes, who has this huge talent for describing audio. He felt it, and wrote this catchy thing I loved and all of a sudden it had become a real song; a weird one, but still a song. He was cool with the idea to use the lyrics and split the verse between him and Pessi and that became one of my favorite parts of the album.
Luxi: What were toughest parts of creating Phobia?
Jari: "Written in Blood" probably, just because it didn't want to take shape. Once I decided not to force it, just let it flow, then it gave me peace. "March of Death" had a few lines that I had to force out just because we were out of time, but other than that I didn't feel like there we things that were left undone.
Luxi: As it's basically you who writes most of the music and lyrics for Torture Killer, do you feel the extra weight on your shoulders? How much do your past works haunt you when you are in the middle of the creative process?
Jari: No because writing is food for my soul and it makes me feel good. The feel that you get when you come up with something you like is a treat. I don't feel pressured because we do this when we are ready, so there are no deadlines unless we set one. I know what we've done before, and I don't get any more kicks writing a filler song that you do listening to it. Nobody likes going fishing if they don't catch anything. But I feel there is music inside me and trying to write it is a pressure valve. I wouldn't feel good if I didn't have that option. Of course there are long dry seasons when nothing good comes out, but like I said, we have no deadlines so I don't need to force it. Of course I would love it if the others would come up with ideas and we have used some that have worked but the fact is their writing style is so different that most of their ideas hardly sound like what we are about. I'm not saying this out of spite; it's a fact. I hate being the guy always rejecting the others ideas, but I can't fake it. If it doesn't sound right the first time, it never will and they can see through me if I'm unhappy with something. But, there are times their ideas ignite something like "And All Will End in Terror." The day I feel I have nothing inside anymore, I'll be more than happy to quit. I have other things I can do. It is unbelievably hard to come up with ONE good song so writing a full album like that is ten times harder and that's why I think EPs would serve the purpose best.
Luxi: People seem to expect a follow-up album to sound similar to where the band left off on their previous works. Do you find this disturbing whenever you start working on new material for Torture Killer?
Jari: I don't worry about it too much. I know we won't go too far, and we'll be in the realm of what we do. We've had songs on our albums that turned out real good and the fact is, I'm like every other Metal fan; I'd love to hear another Raining Blood, but the odds that Part 2 would be better are non-existent, so you have to mix it up somehow. You can't push yourself to repeat the same thing against your will. There's always that "holy grail of riffs" that you can try writing. You won't find it writing washed up sequels to your own old ideas. It's not the expectations that bother me, it's the fact that all these years I've tried my best to sound like the bands I worshipped decades ago and I'm still nowhere near that. So I'm trying to find things to do differently so we could be a little closer to those bands, not necessarily stylistically, but the feel and the quality.
Luxi: Since Torture Killer's third album, Sewers, came out in 2009, the band faced another vocal change. Vocalist Juri Sallinen left the band and his place was taken by Pessi Haltsonen (also in Retaliatory Measures). How easy - or difficult, was this change? There's a bunch of people out there who were used to Juri's growls, one of the trademarks of Torture Killer's sound.
Jari: Line-up changes are never pleasant. This time it was inevitable because things just couldn't continue like they were. It's difficult because you need a guy coming in who can match what the previous one did, and in this I think we succeeded. I'm not going to go deep into this because I have no beef with Juri. He did what he could and we're cool with everything. I don't want to sound ungrateful to a guy who came in and helped us to keep the band together years ago. Things just didn't work out and needed to change.
Luxi: There are always a handful of naysayers regarding changes in a band's line-up. Do you think Pessi has been welcomed by the Torture Killer fans worldwide?
Jari: Pessi is killing it and we're getting along really well so it's all good. There have been line-up changes in bands I liked; some for the better, some for the worse. In most cases it's not what you want to see bands doing but people just need to look a bit deeper because in most cases the changes have been mandatory.
Luxi: Do you keep in touch with Juri?
Jari: No. The connecting thing for us was the band.
Luxi: At the beginning of Torture Killer's career, the band got lots of attention due to Chris Barnes' (ex-Cannibal Corpse, SFU) vocal efforts on Swarm! The attention turned out to be both good and bad. Good because Chris Barnes is loved by a massive amount of people, and bad because he's also hated by an equal amount of people in the Metal scene. Some people consider his band SFU, more or less, a joke. Do you think his participation on Swarm! did any harm to Torture Killer or did it have a positive impact on the band?
Jari: Harm? Absolutely not. He came out of nowhere and offered his help to a bunch of nobody's on the other side of the world who were struggling to keep their band together. If it wasn't for him there wouldn't be any Swarm! We wrote some of our best songs together with him for that album. Listen, I was and still am a huge fan of the first 3 SFU albums. I jammed those mercilessly and still think they are right up there among the best Death Metal albums ever released. Writing songs with him was, and still is, a huge personal honor. What happened was immensely flattering. It was like a script from a movie, it was that off-the-charts. He has been nothing but super cool and extremely polite and that's what matters to me. Of course I'm aware there's some controversy around him, but does that mean anything to me? No. Maybe those people have their reasons to hate him but I don't. I have reason to be very grateful. Writing music with him feels very flattering. You have to keep in mind that I'm just a regular guy; I'm not "in the music scene" at all. He has an amazing talent for writing catchy lines when he's given inspiring music to work with. When in shape, his voice still has the edge, that recognizable sound you know the second you hear it. I don't think we got any shit from being what we were, I think we've been treated very fairly and honestly.
Luxi: Can you tell us about Chris' involvement on Phobia as a guest?
Jari: He wrote the lyrics and does a verse on "Written in Blood." The first version of this song was done for Sewers. The version we recorded back then didn't feel right so we skipped it. We felt the main idea of the song was too good just to waste it with a version that clearly needed more work. There have been numerous versions of this one since Sewers. Just weeks before we went into the studio I thought the version was best and, frankly, was getting tired of working on it. It had a mood, but I couldn't name it. The first idea was to keep it as an instrumental. So I sent it over to Barnes, asked him to take a listen and maybe come up with a title for it. He came back with full vocal parts for the song with even more lines, but we left some of 'em out because I wanted the music itself to create the mood. I think his part on the song is explosive and again, it means a lot he wanted to do it.
Luxi: Have you had any talk yet about any further cooperation between him and Torture Killer, like doing a tour together sometime in the future?
Jari: No. It's not how things work in the real world; booking agents book tours. When, for example SFU tours, the booking agent looks for bands that will pay to get on the tour to cover their ass. The agent needs to make money to cover the expenses and to make a living out of it. So, you get an offer saying that you need to pay an $XX.XX amount of money each night and get your own plane tickets and transportation to get on a tour. In exchange you get slots to open each night and potentially make some bucks back with the merchandise you sell and by this bands hope to reach a bigger audience than they would if they toured by themselves. Some labels assist in these fees and that's called "tour support" which the label collects back from the band one way or another. That's how the business works. We've made a conscious decision not to do that. We don't pay to play. I'm sure Barnes wouldn't have a problem with it at all, it's the booking agent that most probably would. We've had offers like that and some of them were with SFU but those offers are plain ridiculous. If we don't get to play anywhere because of this decision, so be it. We are not big enough to tour on our own and I'm cool with it. But I also know that we are not your average live band. I think we have something special going on when we play. Whatever happens, happens. We refuse to buy our way to play.
Luxi: Torture Killer has done a decent amount of gigging and you have this "Finnphobia Tour 2013" coming up soon with Axegressor supporting you. How important do you see it for Torture Killer to play on your own home soil? Do you find it more relaxing and easier to play for your Finnish fans than, let's say, crisscrossing around central Europe?
Jari: We have been very fortunate to have people come and see us so much. Really, bands playing here don't know what they're getting and usually take attendances for granted. It's rough out there, and you're competing with big names playing in the same town weekly. We enjoy playing live, for sure. We have had good crowds everywhere we've played here. If it's a small town of course there's going to be less people than in bigger ones, but once you put that into perspective, it's more than good. I think word-of-mouth has done the work for us. People know it's good times when we play and we appreciate their effort to come and see us. I would like to play Europe of course, but like I said in the previous answer – most of the time we would have to buy our way over there which is not going to happen.
Luxi: Surely there are some places on the face of the earth where you'd like to bring Torture Killer so, if you have any messages to promoters in countries where you'd like to go, here's your chance to make yourself heard?
Jari: Every band wants to play the states once in their career, I guess, and I'm no different. I have friends over there who I would love to see. Despite what I said about touring in Europe, that's what I would like to do, nevertheless. We toured for two weeks in Russia a few years back, zigzagging from Archangelsk to the Urals, carrying our gear in our hands and taking the night trains and that was good times and great shows. I think we've proven we will do what it takes to make things happen if the terms are acceptable. I've heard the Metalheads in South America are crazy, so who wouldn't want to see that? I have no idea what it's like in the UK, but that would be cool, as would Serbia. Ss you can see I have no specific answer to this one...
Luxi: How important do you see playing shows is for Torture Killer? Do you believe if you just stopped doing gigs that would start ringing the bells of doom? Imagining Torture Killer as a studio-only band seems even more unlikely than witnessing Mr. Barnes returning to Cannibal Corpse...
Jari: It's when we are at our best, I think. I see us putting out small releases and doing occasional shows when we can. 3 of the 5 guys now have kids, and my job keeps me away half of the year so we never were and never will be a full-on touring band. All these things have an effect but if we come up with a good song, I believe every of us wants to record it and once you record it, you want to play it for people.
Luxi: The Finnish (old school) Death Metal scene seems to be getting stronger and blooming again, after many years of quiet, due to quality new Death Metal bands (Maveth, Krypts, Gorephilia, Stench of Decay, etc.) plus some bands making comebacks (Convulse, Demigod), after being buried for years. Do you believe bands are there because of a sheer enthusiasm to play Death Metal or because playing Death Metal has become an acceptable and popular phenomenon again?
Jari: A big question to answer. Every band consists of 3-5 members and each of them might have a different reason why they're doing what they're doing. I think you can't really say which motives drive each band; if the music comes from the heart, and you keep consistent, good things are going to happen. We play our music because it makes us feel good and I would like to think that's the case with the other ones, too. The oldies, man, it's hard to say anything about them. I mean there are guys that played on cult Finnish Death Metal albums who now play the weirdest pop shit, then you have guys who had a band for a few a while, went away for 15 years and are now back? All of us have to deal with the fact that, for my generation, no one will ever write an album that could challenge The Karelian Isthmus, Slumber of Sullen Eyes or Dances from Left. You forgot to mention Desecresy (sorry about that; they are such a killer act too – Luxi). I think is it obvious Tommi is a guy who writes from the heart; really good stuff, really honest and really moody.
Luxi: Are you delighted about the fact Finnish Death Metal legends Abhorrence have reformed to play a few gigs this year, giving an opportunity, especially for younger generations, to witness them live?
Jari: I was a year late from Abhorrence, so I jumped in when Amorphis already existed. To me that was one of my favorite bands, so yeah it's cool to go see them, I guess.
Luxi: Back to Torture Killer. What do you guys have in store for the remaining months of 2013? Spreading your Death Metal havoc to every corner of the world by playing gigs, maybe an extensive tour with some established Death Metal name, recording an official Torture Killer live DVD, or, perhaps, trying to get a special Torture Killer "First Comes Torture, Then Kill" whiskey as a part of the official Torture Killer merchandise line? Seriously speaking, do you have some far-sighted plans for this year?
Jari: The show at Tuska is the last scheduled appearance we have for now. I won't be available to do anything major after that for a few months.
Luxi: Last question and then we are done. If Torture Killer got the opportunity to record an anthem for the Finnish hockey team for the upcoming worldwide champion hockey games in Stockholm, Sweden, this year, what kind of a song would it be and what would the title be?
Jari: Man, I love hockey. I'm the only one in the band that goes to games all the time so I would love to do it. The song would have to have a simple, AC/DC type of drum beat with a really heavy riff. The lyrics would have to be a macho Finnish alpha-male rant. It would have to have verses that would decimate the Swedes and the Russians because they are the archenemies. It would have to be a song you'd want to hear before going into war.
Luxi: That was all, so I sincerely want to thank you for taking time to get this interview done, Jari. I wish you all the best with your future endeavors. If there's something you'd still like to add to this interview that I forgot to ask you, here's your chance...
Jari: Thank you Luxi. It was a really in-depth interview and I loved doing it. You've been around for a long time, involved with the scene, helping bands and I really appreciate and admire a figure like that. All the best!! You can purchase your copy of the new Torture Killer album Phobia at: www.recordshopx.com/artist/tortureðkiller/phobia/#cd and you can check out a few samples on Youtube: www.youtube.com/watch?v=AswkFKg7Hes, www.youtube.com/watch?v=a-Fn1jEhlHY
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